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Nevada GOP leaders reject same-day registration for caucus

Nevada Republican Party leaders have agreed not to allow same-day voter registration for the Feb. 18 presidential caucuses after tea party members complained the process could be corrupted by Democrats and even “elitist, calculating Republicans.”

State party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian planned to submit the caucus rules to the Republican National Committee this week to meet a Saturday deadline after removing the objectionable provision. It would have allowed Nevadans to register as Republicans and in turn participate the same day in the caucuses, an early step in selecting the GOP nominee for president.

“Many Republicans were afraid that same-day registration would turn this into a real mess,” Heidi Smith, a Republican national committeewoman in Nevada, said Tuesday. “We’re thinking of just registering as many people as we can in the weeks ahead of the caucuses instead.”

Republican leaders had wanted to hold same-day registration to help expand GOP numbers in the run-up to Election Day 2012. The goal is to give the party’s candidates a boost up and down the ticket — from the White House race to the U.S. Senate, House and legislative contests.

That’s what the Democratic Party successfully did in 2008. It registered 30,000 voters on caucus day when more than 110,000 participated, setting the stage for a big win by President Barack Obama.

In contrast, the GOP presidential caucuses in 2008 involved 44,000 people. Republicans hope to increase participation in 2012 to at least 75,000 people and use the party event to catch up to Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans in Nevada by about 67,000 registered voters.

In July, newly elected Tarkanian led a GOP executive committee meeting that voted to hold a same-day registration caucus. She had discussed her desire to mimic the Democratic model, including in a July speech to the Nevada Republican Men’s Club in Las Vegas.

But as the Oct. 1 RNC deadline approached, members of the tea party movement who learned of the same-day registration decision strongly objected. They accused Tarkanian and other party leaders of secretly approving the plan to satisfy the national party and GOP candidates, including presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The issue came to a head over the weekend. Jeri Taylor-Swade and Laurel Fee, the leaders TRUNC — Tea Party & Republicans Uniting Nevada Conservatives — blasted Tarkanian and the party.

“This is a wide open door to massive voting fraud and disruption of the Republican process by Democrat-controlled Acorn type organizations and elitist, calculating Republicans wishing to control the election outcome in our important swing state,” TRUNC said in a news release.

After listening to the conservative movement’s concerns over several days, Tarkanian called a Saturday teleconference of the GOP executive committee. The panel members agreed to drop the same-day registration rule and discuss it at its open Oct. 22 meeting.

“It is my hope that once the matter is settled, we can move on together to create a presidential caucus that will be the envy of the nation,” Tarkanian said in a statement Saturday to members of the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee.

If the GOP executive committee reverses itself again on Oct. 22, the state party could ask the RNC to accept revised rules to allow same-day registration after all, GOP officials said. But several Republican insiders said they doubt tea party members will drop objections, and some other GOP members are wary, too, because the Republican Party has long objected to same-day registration for regular elections.

In addition, it’s not easy to revise caucus rules after a plan is submitted to the RNC. If it is considered a “material change,” another state could object and it would be subject to a vote.

“It will likely all just become moot,” one GOP insider said.

Taylor-Swade and Fee said they talked with Tarkanian on Tuesday, and she assured them the same-day registration rule would be removed, which a GOP official confirmed. She also invited them to present arguments spelling out their concerns during the Oct. 22 meeting in Las Vegas.

“We aren’t upset with Amy. We helped get her elected,” Taylor-Swade said. “This is all about making sure it’s we the people who decide, the grass-roots folks, not a small group of party leaders.”

Taylor-Swade worked on Sharron Angle’s failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. Angle lost to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who built the Nevada Democratic Party into a successful election machine.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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